Image Source: Bhavanajagat.
On 29 March 2012, Nature published findings (here) from scientists working under Professor Ronald M. Evans, at Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory (Hat tip: Machines Like Us). They have discovered the switches inside cells which regulate the body's biological clock and determine when we sleep and eat. Disruption of the brain's biological clock - for example, through excessive night time activity - is a major cause of life-threatening diseases. The ability to control the biological clock promises to remedy these problems; the research confirms that our health is intimately connected to the movements of the sun and earth:
"This fundamentally changes our knowledge about the workings of the circadian clock and how it orchestrates our sleep-wake cycles, when we eat and even the times our bodies metabolize nutrients," says Evans. "Nuclear receptors can be targeted with drugs, which suggests we might be able to target REV-ERBα and β to treat disorders of sleep and metabolism."
Nurses, emergency personnel and others who work shifts that alter the normal 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping are at much higher risk for a number of diseases, including metabolic disorders such as diabetes. To address this, scientists are trying to understand precisely how the biological clock works and uncover possible targets for drugs that could adjust the circadian rhythm in people with sleep disorders and circadian-associated metabolic disorders.
In mammals, the circadian timing system is orchestrated by a central clock in the brain and subsidiary clocks in most other organs. The master clock in the brain is set by light and determines the overall diurnal or nocturnal preference of an animal, including sleep-wake cycles and feeding behavior. ...
The scientists also found that the REV-ERBs control the activity of hundreds of genes involved metabolism, including those responsible for controlling levels of fats and bile. The mice in which REV-ERBα and REV-ERBβ were turned off had high levels of fat and sugar in their blood—common problems in people with metabolic disorders.
"This explains how our cellular metabolism is tied to daylight cycles determined by the movements of the sun and the earth," says Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in Salk's Regulatory Biology Laboratory and co-author on the paper. "Now we want to find ways of leveraging this mechanism to fix a person's metabolic rhythms when they are disrupted by travel, shift work or sleep disorders."